The Cold, Hard Facts About Winter Tires & What Snowbirds Need to Know to Stay Safe While Wintering in Canada

It’s not just about snowfall, once temperatures dip to +7°C, winter tires are the way to go.

Long, cold, snowy winters are familiar to most Canadians, except perhaps those who would typically head to warmer climates around this time of year. But, border closures, travel restrictions and safe choices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 mean most snowbirds are staying north of the border this year. Many Vancouver Island campgrounds are reporting unprecedented winter bookings with several managing waitlists to accommodate the influx of those looking for a more temperate Canadian winter experience. But, for these snowbirds, winter driving conditions may come as a bit of a surprise even with choosing the west coast to ride out winter 2020/2021.

A top consideration for anyone looking to safely navigate Canada’s roads this winter is understanding the conversation has shifted (language-wise) from snow tires to winter tires. They do, in fact, refer to the same tire, but language has shifted to ensure consumers know not to wait for snow to get the right tires. It’s actually winter temperatures that dictate when it’s time to store those summer tires. Once temperatures dip below +7°C, winter tires provide superior tire performance compared to summer and even all-season tires.

Whether a ‘stranded’ snowbird or a winter weather expert, Canada is a large country and based on the annual avalanche of east coast versus west coast #snowstorm memes, each province has an entirely different experience when it comes to winter weather.  Vancouver’s, ‘But, it’s a wet cold?!’ cannot be compared to Montrealers shovelling through 4’ of packed snow before leaving for work just to have to shovel it again before being able to pull back into the driveway at the end of the day. In fact, it often becomes a friendly competition and point of pride to boast which province lays claim to the biggest snowfall of the season.

But, while each of us experiences unique winters depending on where we live or hang our hat this year, the summer to winter tire transition is relevant across the nation. And, yes, this is even true for Vancouver Islanders navigating the Malahat or waking up to the horror of significant and unexpected snowfall (remember Snowmageddon 2019?).

From St. John’s to Vancouver, ‘expect the unexpected’ becomes more than a catchy phrase as drivers look forlornly between their summer tires or all seasons and the rising snowfall while strategizing how to get to work or the store. Many discover the hard way that not all all-seasons are actually for all seasons if they don’t have the coveted snowflake rating as found with winter tires or at least an M+S (Mud + Snow) rating which, by the way, is still not as effective as a complete winter tire. So, what’s the best choice and why? TIRF’s new Safe Winter Driving Starts with Winter Tires infographic is here to help.

This infographic comes following eight years of our winter tire report maintaining its place as one of our most downloaded documents around this time every year. This infographic answers some of the common questions about why winter driving requires winter tires and most importantly, why winter tires will help you get home safely. It’s imperative drivers understand winter tires improve traction, but drivers must still drive according to weather & road conditions. A University of Michigan report found, “A two-wheel drive vehicle with winter tires will outperform a four-wheel drive vehicle with all-season tires in braking and cornering.”

Facts about winter tires versus all-season and summer tires

  • Winter tire performance is superior in temperatures below +7°C (yes, that’s PLUS SEVEN) compared to all-season and summer tires.
  • Winter tires use a rubber compound that is less stiff & more flexible in colder temperatures.
  • Winter tires have better traction at -30°C than all-season tires do at +4°C.
  • Treads have deeper grooves and irregular edges to improve traction on wet, slushy, snowy, icy & dry cold surfaces.
  • A car with winter tires on an icy road needs 6.4 metres to stop compared to 12.1 metres for a car with all-season tires.
  • Winter tires are important because crash-avoidance technologies such as electronic stability control don’t work if tires have inadequate traction.
  • The superior performance of winter tires during winter conditions increases the likelihood drivers can avoid a costly collision.

When it comes time to book your vehicle in the shop for the switch to winter tires, be sure to put on a complete set of winter tires because mixing different types of tires can cause a vehicle to fishtail. I think we can all agree that the only fishtails we want to see are those happily splashing around at the lake when we welcome Spring 2021.

Download & share this free infographic produced in partnership with the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada:

#MySafeRoadHome blog co-authors: Karen Bowman, Director, Drop It And Drive®(DIAD) program and Ward Vanlaar, TIRF COO, work collaboratively as co-authors. Karen is also TIRF’s Director of Marketing & Communications; she uses her writing and blogging background to help apply TIRF’s research to real-world driving, cycling and walking. She has also experienced the diversity of winter in the UK, Montreal, Ottawa, Victoria, Vancouver, the Kootenays and now, Nanaimo. Ward is a statistician and criminologist whose main fields of interest are traffic enforcement issues, risky driving behaviours, young and senior drivers, statistics and methodology, data management, safety performance indicators, and implementation of road safety programs. Originating from Ghent, Belgium and now residing in Ottawa, Ontario, Ward is accustomed to the rigours of winter driving; he not only loves winter but also enjoys winter driving.

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Source documents:

Safe Winter Driving Starts with Winter Tires infographic, Traffic Injury Research Foundation, 2020

Global News, Canadian snowbirds flock west as winter looms, but space is at a premium, Oct. 9, 2020

Woodroofe, John (2016). Ten Surprising Findings About Winter Tires: It Is Not Just About Snow, University of Michigan

Brown, S.W., Vanlaar, W.G.M., Robertson, R.D. (2012). Winter Tires: A Review of Research on Effectiveness and Use. Ottawa, Ontario: Traffic Injury Research Foundation.

Victoria News, Vancouver Island Snowmageddon finally over?, Feb. 15, 2019

David Bird
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